The Center for Reproductive Science and MedicineIn the Department of Reproductive Medicine

Faculty

A brief description of the Center faculty.  If you would like more information on our most current research, feel free to contact the individual Project Leaders.

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Pamela L. Mellon, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Neurosciences

Vice-Chair for Research in the Department of Reproductive Medicine

Leader of Research Project I

Director of The Center for Reproductive Science and Medicine; Director of the Administrative Core

Dr. Mellon is world renowned for her contributions to the neuroendocrinology of reproduction. She developed the gonadotrope and GnRH neuron immortalized cell lines as models for the study of reproductive hormones that are used throughout the world. Dr. Mellon has established the direct actions of growth factors, second messengers, and neurotransmitters on GnRH gene expression and has identified the enhancers and the ma­jority of the known neuron-specific regulators that control GnRH expression and the migration of the GnRH neurons during development. She has shown that GnRH neurons have intrinsic pulsatile secretion of GnRH and are controlled by circadian rhythms. In pituitary, Dr. Mellon has studied the role of pulsatile GnRH, activin, and steroids, in developmental and tissue-specific gene expression. Dr. Mellon's research program has provid­ed seminal advances in the understanding of developmental and hormonal regulation of gonadotropin and GnRH genes in vitro and in vivo. Dr. Mellon has been the Director of the UC San Diego SCCPIR U54 for 17 years and was the Co-Director of the previous NIH P50 Center for Population Research at UC San Diego for 5 years. She has served on the Council of the Endocrine Society, the Annual Meeting Steering Committee, as Chair of the NIH Endocrinology Study Section, Chair of the Steering Committee of the NICHD SCCPIR, Leader of the SCCPIR Neuroendocrine Focus Group, and as President of Women in Endocrinology. She has published 170 papers. She is also the Director of the NIH T32 "Training in Reproductive Sciences", which was awarded a MENTOR award by NICHD, and is Research Director of the UC San Diego NICHD Women’s Reproductive Health Research Center (NICHD K12), a program that supports junior faculty clinicians in becoming scientists. She is the recipient of the Richard E. Weitzman Memorial and the Ernst Oppenheimer Memorial Awards of the Endocrine Society and was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Scholar Mentoring (2013-2014) and the Mentor Award of Women in Endocrinology for 2014. She has trained 49 postdoctoral fellows and 20 Ph.D. students, many of whom are in faculty positions.

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R. Jeffrey Chang, M.D., Professor of Reproductive Medicine

Co-Director of The Center for Reproductive Science and Medicine

Co-Director of the Administrative Core

Leader of Research Project III

Dr. Chang has focused most of his science and research studying the mechanisms responsible for PCOS, a reproductive endocrine-metabolic disorder that affect 5-10% of reproductive-aged women. He has made several notable contributions to understanding the patho­physiology of this disorder with over 125 peer-reviewed publications. He determined that the ovary was the primary source of androgen excess and that women with PCOS are insulin resistant. He has performed clinical studies that revealed an intraovarian paracrine relationship that contributes, in part, to androgen overproduction. Recently, he showed that theca cell androgen production is more responsive to gonadotropin stimulation than that of normal women. Moreover, androgen production is widely variable in this disorder and may account for ovulatory disruption and infertility. He has trained 32 clinical fellows in reproductive endocrinology, of which 14 proceeded to accept faculty appointments at academic institutions. Dr. Chang has previously chaired an NIH Reproductive Biology Study Section. In addition, he has served as a member of an NIH Site Review Visit Committee and been invited to several NIH Workshops. Dr. Chang was the Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UC Davis from 1987-1996. Dr. Chang has been the past President of the Society of Reproductive Endocrinologists, the Pacific Coast Reproductive Society, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.  He also served as past President of the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics, the primary educational organization of the specialty.
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Mark A. Lawson, Ph.D., Professor, Reproductive Medicine

Project Leader on Research Project II

Co-Investigator on Research Project I

Dr. Lawson's lab has identified novel signaling properties of the GnRH receptor that result in regulation of tran­slation and stress signaling in pituitary gonadotropes. They were the first to characterize hormone regulated utilization of specific mRNAs, establishing a new research area that greatly expands our knowledge of GnRH signaling mechanisms. His laboratory is also investigating the role of oxidative stress in GnRH signaling and the integration of metabolic and hormone signaling in the pituitary. His lab also studies the mechanisms of pulsatile hormone action and his group provided the first mechanistic explanation of how gonadotropin gene transcription is modulated by pulse-dependent activation of transcriptional regulatory factors. Dr. Lawson has also engaged in translational research and his work was the first to demonstrate the inhibitory effect of hperinsulinemia on gonadotropin release and gonadotrope sensitivity to GnRH in humans.

Dr. Lawson was awarded the Salk Institute Fellowship for Distinguished Minority Researchers, The University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the National Academy of Sciences/Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. Dr. Lawson has been NIH funded since 1997 and has served as PI on both training and research programs. He has authored over 40 publications and has individually trained or assisted in training numerous fellows, graduate students, technicians and undergraduates. He is also co-director of the NIGMS-funded T36 “Endocrine Network for Undergraduate Research and Career Development Opportunities”.  This is a national training grant activity that supports career mentoring for underrepresented minority students at minority serving institutions across the country.  He also serves as Director of the system wide UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

 
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Nicholas J. G. Webster, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine; Director, Division of Endocrinology

Co-Investigator on Research Project II

Dr. Webster has been a member of the Division of Endocrinology at UC San Diego since 1989. His lab is interested in mechanisms of signal transduction in different developmental and disease contexts. He has made many notable contributions including 1) showing that insulin and IGF-IR receptors are amplified and activated in breast cancer, 2) elucidating the mechanisms regulating insulin receptor isoform expression and showing that they have differential signaling properties, 3) demonstrating that pulsatile GnRH signals through both Gas and Gq/11 in gonadotrope cells and developing models for the pulse-frequency regulation of the Lhb and Fshb genes, 4) showing that obesity and lipid excess impair fertility and, most recently, 5) identifying Pparγ and Sirt1 as mediators of leptin and insulin resistance in the hypothalamus. Dr. Webster is the author of over 80 peer-reviewed papers and his research has been continually funded by NIH, VA and DOD grants for the past 20 years. His leadership abilities are demonstrated by previous appointments as Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at UC San Diego, Chair of the Research and Development Committee at the VASDHS, and by his current positions as Associate Director for Shared Resources at the Moores Cancer Center and as Chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism. He has supervised over 50 trainees including 24 post-doctoral fellows many of whom are in academia or research scientists in industry. 
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Antoni Duleba, M.D., Professor, Reproductive Medicine; Director, Division of Reproductive Endocrinology

Co-Investigator of Research Project III

Dr. Duleba received his medical training from University of British Columbia and completed his fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Yale University. He joined the faculty at Yale where for 14 years he carried out clinical and basic research focused on ovarian function and PCOS. Subsequently he relocated to University of California continuing his studies related to PCOS. Work carried out in his laboratory demonstrated that ovarian theca-interstitial cells proliferate in response to moderate oxidative stress whereas antioxidants reduce cell growth and induce apoptosis. He found that inhibition of mevalonate pathway by pharmacologic agents such as statins results in profound inhibition of theca-interstitial growth and reduction of androgen synthesis. In parallel, his clinical studies on women with PCOS have shown that simva­statin, an inhibitor of mevalonate pathway with anti-oxidant properties improves a wide range of metabolic, endocrine and clinical aspects of PCOS. His current work incudes studies of the role of inflammation and oxidative stress in ovarian steroidogenesis and evaluation of the mechanisms of action of anti-inflammatory agents on theca and granulosa cells. Dr. Duleba has authored over one hundred and twenty peer-reviewed publications, reviews and book chapters.

 
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Shunichi Shimasaki, Ph.D.,  Professor of Reproductive Medicine

Co-Investigator on Research Project III

Dr. Shunichi Shimasaki came to the United States in 1985 to join Nobel-Prize-Winner, Dr. Roger Guillemin's laboratory at The Salk Institute as a research associate and accomplished the molecular cloning of the numerous cDNAs encoding novel regulatory proteins such as FSHβ subunit, basic FGF (FGF-2), inhibins/activins and follistatins. Dr. Shimasaki is a co-discoverer of activin and follistatin. In 1989, Dr. Shimasaki moved to The Whittier Institute, where he discovered 4 novel IGF binding proteins (IGFBP-3, -4, -5, -6). In 1997, Dr. Shimasaki moved to UC San Diego, where he became Professor in 1998. Since joining UC San Diego, Dr. Shimasaki initiated a new research project that concerns the role of BMPs in ovarian function. Dr. Shimasaki found novel functions of BMPs that raise the possibility that BMPs are the long sought luteinization inhibitors. Since then Dr. Shimasaki’s research program has published numerous seminal papers with regard to the role of the BMP system in the ovary and established a new concept that the BMP system plays a critical role in the regulation of ovarian function. The physiological relevance of the BMP system in the ovary has been supported by the fact that genetic mutations in the BMP ligands and receptors lead to critical aberrations in folliculogenesis and ovulation. Also, he has a long-term collaboration with Dr. Jeff Chang in ovarian physiology/pathophysiology in women with PCOS. 
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Alexander S. Kauffman, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Reproductive Medicine

Co-Investigator of Research Project II; Co-Investigator of the Education/Outreach Core

Dr. Kauffman received his Ph.D. in Integrative Biology in 2002 from UC Berkeley. As a postdoctoral fellow, he gained further expertise in reproductive neuroscience and molecular neuroendocrinology, with a focus on GnRH and kisspeptin signaling in rodent models as well as environmental, metabolic, and developmental influences on the brain's regulation of reproduction. In January, 2009, Dr. Kauffman joined the faculty of Reproductive Medicine at UC San Diego. His lab addresses several key aspects of kisspeptin's role in reproductive neuroendocrinology, as well as the hormonal and neural mechanisms underlying sex differences in puberty and reproductive physiology. Among his important contributions to the field, he first identified that kisspeptin neurons in the brain are sexually differentiated by sex steroids during early development, documented circadian regulation of kisspeptin neurons during positive feedback, demonstrated a novel kisspeptin sex difference during development, and first identified a novel estrogen-sensitive population of kiss­peptin neurons in the amygdala. He recently reported for the first time that progesterone receptors in kisspeptin neurons are critical for female fertility. Dr. Kauffman has a productive track record of research, with over 55 peer-reviewed publications since 2001, including more than 30 articles relating to kisspeptin and/or GnRH. He has won multiple Young Investigator research awards, including the Society of Behavioral Neuroendocrin­ology's inaugural Young Investigator Award in 2004 and the 2012 Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS) Early Career Investigator Award. He has previously received multiple research grants, including NIH NRSA, K99/R00, and R01 grants, as well as major funding from the NSF. 
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Varykina Thackray, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Reproductive Medicine

Co-Investigator on Research Project I; Co-Investigator of the Education/Outreach Core

Dr. Thackray received her Ph.D. in Molecular Endocrinology in 2002 from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. She then received post-doctoral training in neuroendocrinology and pituitary gonadotrope function where she made several important discoveries concerning mechanisms of steroid hormone and activin regulation of gonadotropin hormone genes. Dr. Thackray was awarded a K01 NIH Mentored Research Scientist Development Award and joined the faculty at UC San Diego in 2008. Dr. Thackray's NIH-funded research has focused on the intersection between metabolism and reproductive function at the level of the pituitary gonadotrope. Her lab has characterized insulin and IGF1 regulation of the PI3K/AKT/FOXO1 signaling pathway in gonadotrope cells. Her research has shown that FOXO1 can suppress basal and GnRH-induced LHβ and FSHβ gene expression, suggesting that FOXO1 may provide a link between metabolic status and fertility. As an extension of her post-doctoral work, the Thackray lab also demonstrated that there is coordinated regulation of FSHβ transcription by steroid hormones and activin via direct interactions between steroid receptors, SMAD and FOXL2 transcription factors on the FSHβ promoter. Dr. Thackray’s lab also investigated the role of single nucleotide polymorphism in the human FSHβ promoter linked to decreased fertility in men and PCOS in women. This study demonstrated that decreased binding of the LHX3 homeodomain factor to the FSHβ promoter resulted in impaired FSHβ transcription and provided a likely mechanism for decreased FSH levels in men and women. Dr. Thackray was awarded a Young Investigator Award in 2009 from Women in Endocrinology and an Early Investigator Award in 2012 from the Endocrine Society. Dr. Thackray has authored 26 publications and has trained many postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students. 
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Irene Su, M.D., M.S.C.E., Associate Professor, Reproductive Medicine.

Co-Director of the Education/Outreach Core

Dr. Su is a reproductive endocrinologist and epidemiologist in the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at UC San Diego. She conducts patient-oriented research on reproductive outcomes in young female cancer survivors. She collaborates with Dr. Chang on PCOS studies and was co-director of the National Physicians Cooperative within the Oncofertility Consortium from 2010-2012. Over the past six years, she has participated in the planning, teaching and implementation of the UC San Diego Oncofertility Science Academy, from which the proposed Reproductive Science Academy is derived. She oversaw Oncofertility Saturday Academy in 2012. These efforts have resulted in successful collaborations with investigators across disciplines and clinical sites and substantial experience in educational outreach. 
   

Interactions Within the Center for Reproductive Science and Medicine

As members of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology in the Department of Reproductive Medicine and the Division of Endocrinology in the Department of Medicine, the faculty has very close relationships. We are all located together on the La Jolla campus of the School of Medicine (Facilities and Resources Section). Many of us have been members of this Center for more than seventeen years (Mellon, Chang, Webster, Lawson, Shimasaki). The members of the Center faculty are also long-standing collaborators with extensive interactions. In addition to extensive scientific interaction and collaboration, the laboratories within the Center also share materials, reagents, and animal models, and enthusiastically support each other’s science with our methodological and scientific expertise.
   

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